A guide to sustainable Scottish seafood
Fish and shellﬁsh rank among our most lauded produce, but there are issues of sustainability and less conﬁdence generally in how to handle ﬁsh in the kitchen. With Seafood Scotland and chef Kevin MacGillivray, we offer a handy guide to recognising, understanding and cooking some of Scotland’s best species.
The North Atlantic herring ﬁshery takes place in spring and the North Sea ﬁsher in late summer, when ﬁsh gather in large shoals to spawn.
Once the core of the Scottish ﬁshing industry, herring stocks came near to collapse in the 1970s and are now monitored carefully to ensure that they are sustainable. The two ﬁsheries have achieved Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certiﬁcation.
Herring is an oil-rich ﬁsh that’s full of omega-3 fatty acids. Fresh herring is best in late spring and autumn, though it’s also popular all year round in its smoked form, as kippers.
‘Herring ﬁllets are delicious coated in oatmeal and shallow-fried in a little oil or butter, then served with mustard,’ says Kevin MacGillivray.
Mackerel is the most valuable pelagic (open-sea) ﬁsh species in Scotland, worth around £65 million per annum. It is caugh mainly by large trawlers, with a small amount of hand-lining. The stocks ﬁshed by Scottish vessels have all achieved MSC certiﬁcation.
Fresh mackerel is available from January to March and October to November and is a popular smoked product all year round. It’s another ﬁsh that’s full of omega-3 fatty acids.
'You can’t beat a fresh whole mackerel either grilled or barbecued. Make sure the ﬁsh is gutted, then simply score the skin and cook on both sides until it is crisp, then serve with horseradish sauce,’ says MacGillivray.
Haddock is the most important whiteﬁsh species in Scotland and is ﬁshed all around the coast. It is available all year round, but is in best condition after May Catches are worth more than £32 million each year. Haddock caught in the North Sea should achieve MSC certiﬁcation in autumn 2010.
‘Haddock are really versatile ﬁsh – dipping them in batter for ﬁsh and chips is just one option. Try grilling ﬁllets for a few minutes with a dab of butter and lemon juice, or top them with breadcrumbs mixed with cheese for a crunchy ﬁnish. Bake them in a tomato, cream or cheese sauce, dip them in seasoned ﬂour and shallow fry.’
Megrim, a lesser known ﬂatﬁsh, is a good alternative to lemon sole being similar in taste and texture. It’s one of the most commonly landed ﬂatﬁsh in Scotland yet much of the catch still heads off to Spain where it’s very popular. Stocks of megrim are plentiful in summer months. To ensure that they are sustainable, megrim is subject to a minimum landing size of 20cm and also to catch limits.
‘Ask your ﬁshmonger to source megrim, then get him to ﬁllet it. This delicate ﬁsh is good with strong ﬂavours. Try grilling it for a few minutes with a pesto topping. Fillets are also good wrapped around a piece of salmon, dotted with butter and baked for ten minutes.’
Hake is also popular with the Spanish, Portuguese and Italians. It is a member of the cod family and swims in deep water. It has a long, slender body and is good for cutting into steaks. The ﬂesh is quite soft, but ﬁrms up on cooking.
Northern European stocks have been subject to recovery plans that include catch and ﬁshing effort controls. Scottish stocks are now robust and being ﬁshed sustainably.
‘Hake has a mild ﬂavour and few bones so is very good in a ﬁsh soup, casserole or tagine. Layer it with olives, onions, cherry tomatoes and pickled lemons, add seasoning and a dash of wine and cook for half an hour in the oven.’
Most native mussels are farmed in Scottish sea lochs, an operation involving mussel spores settling naturally on ropes suspended from buoys or ﬂoating frames. Once attached they grow for two to three years to reach harvest size. They receive no feed, relying on plankton in the water and, as a result, are a very healthy, natural product.
Relatively inexpensive and available all year round, live mussels can be stored wrapped in a damp cloth in the fridge for a day or two.
‘Wash the mussels, pull off any thin threads (beard) and discard shells that do not close when tapped. Cook them in garlic butter, with onions and a splash of white wine, or with tomatoes, onions and herbs, for 3–4 minutes until they are all open.’
Scallops live on sandy, gravel seabeds and are ﬁshed either with dredges (95 per cent) or hand-dived (5 per cent). There’s no taste difference between the two, although the size, quality and texture can vary.
New dredge designs make scallop ﬁshing more environmentally friendly, with less seabed contact, while seabed mapping technology helps ﬁshermen to avoid sensitive areas and protect vulnerable habitats. The minimum landing size is 100–110mm across the shell. If you ﬁnd whole scallops difﬁcult to shuck, ask your ﬁshmonger to do it for you or buy ready-prepared scallops.
‘Don’t overcook scallops! Pan-fry them in a little rapeseed oil until just translucent Finish with a knob of butter and a squeeze of lemon, and serve.’
The brown crab is the most common crab species in Scotland. It’s used most often for dressed-crab salads and sandwiches. Dressing a crab involves combining the rich brown meat from the body of the crab with the plainer white meat of the claws, together with seasoning and lemon juice. The white meat can also be eaten picked from the claw shells.
Licensed ﬁshermen use creels (pots) to catch crab, which are subject to a minimum landing size of 140mm shell width in Scotland. The catch is taken alive back to shore, where it may be stored in seawater tanks until needed.
‘Make a stunning crab tart using. a mixture of brown and white crab meat, a small can of sweetcorn, 4–6 eggs, 2oz Gruyère cheese and a small pot of cream. Pour into a pastry case and cook for 30 minutes at 180C.’